Top news: President Barack Obama arrived in Israel today for his first visit to the country and the first overseas trip of his second term. But after four years of strained relations between Obama and his counterpart, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the trip is not expected to produce any major breakthroughs on the peace process and is instead expected to focus on regional security issues, including the conflict in Syria and Iran's nuclear program.
The trip's centerpiece will be a speech to a group of Israeli youth, and as the rest of his trip's itinerary indicates -- stops at the grave of Theodor Herzl, father of modern Zionism, and a viewing of the Dead Sea Scrolls -- Obama's trip is perhaps aimed more at mending fences with a country he has at times had a testy relationship with and that has exasperated him than producing diplomatic breakthroughs. "I see this visit as an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our two nations," Obama declared upon stepping off Air Force One in Tel Aviv.
Obama will also meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but he will arrive in the West Bank without any new peace initiative in hand. White House advisers have said that the trip will seek to encourage the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, but with enduring tensions over Israeli settlement activity, a deep rift between Hamas and Fatah, and recent fighting between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, officials in Washington have made no indication how they plan to overcome these serious obstacles.
At the conclusion of his trip to Israel, Obama will travel to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah.
Cyprus: The Cypriot parliament rejected a 10 billion euro bailout package for the country's banks that would have required a levy on Cypriot bank deposits, a component of the measure that had caused widespread outrage on the tiny island nation. The rejection of the measure forces President Nicos Anastasiades to return to the drawing board and find a way to tweak the measure to save his country's banking system.
- A computer virus shut down the networks of a series of major South Korean banks and broadcasters, sparking speculation that North Korea may have launched a cyber attack in retaliation for recent sanctions.
- The Philippine Supreme Court delayed the implementation of a law that would provide free contraception to poor women.
- Afghan and NATO officials reached an agreement on the gradual withdrawal of U.S. special forces from Wardak Province, where allegations of human rights abuses have led to discontent with the U.S. military's presence.
- A senior Israeli official said that it is "apparently clear" that chemical weapons were used in a recent attack on a village in northern Syria.
- An umbrella group of militants that includes al Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for a series of bombings that killed more than 50 people earlier this week.
- The Saudi Arabian government arrested 18 individuals involved in what it said was a spying operation for another state.
- French President Francois Hollande's budget minister, Jerome Cahuzac, resigned amid allegations he has an undeclared Swiss bank account, dealing a defeat to Hollande on the same day his government faces its first confidence vote.
- British Finance Minister George Osborne is set to unveil his government's new budget today and is expected to continue his efforts aimed at broad deficit reduction.
- Germany's interior minister said he supports an effort by German states to ban the country's largest far-right party but said he would not seek to have the party banned at the national level.
- Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the group's North Africa affiliate, said it had killed a French hostage captured in Mali in 2011.
- The death toll in a suicide bombing in a busy Nigerian commercial center rose to 41, the deadliest attack so far attributed to the country's Islamist militants.
- Voters in Zimbabwe overwhelmingly approved their country's new constitution in a referendum held last weekend, election authorities announced.
- The trial of U.S.-backed Guatemalan strongman Efrain Rios Montt began with testimony describing a brutal military attack on an indigenous village, kicking off a trial that is unprecedented in Latin America's history.
- An Argentine Catholic activist group said Pope Francis I, while the head of the church in Argentina, reacted slowly in moving against priests guilty of sex abuse.
- The number of inmates on a hunger strike in the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay has risen to 24.
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